/ Budget & Planning

Making the Right Choices for Your Kitchen


 When creating a kitchen, you first must decide:

  • What styles appeal to you

  • What items you must have

  • How much you want to spend

  • When you want it to be done

  • What size and shape you prefer

Every kitchen has the same basic design elements:

  • Cabinets

  • Appliances

  • Countertops

  • Flooring

  • Sinks and faucets

  • Walls, ceilings, windows, moldings and other architectural details

But consider these factors when selecting products that will affect your kitchen's look and functionality:

  • The architectural style of your home-by making your home's interior reflect its exterior, you bring continuity to the whole structure.

  • Your needs: perhaps you want space to cook big family meals, you're an at-home gourmet, or you have special accessibility concerns.

  • Your cabinets' door style and color will have the most impact on your new kitchen's palette by making the strongest visual statement.

  • Appliances also deserve top billing. Which ones you select and where you put them will determine how cook-friendly your layout is.

Finally, you'll want to choose complementary countertops, flooring, plumbing fixtures, and architectural details. Don't try to get everything to match exactly. You can give your kitchen a personal feel by making sure everything coordinates but still keeps its own character.


More in this category:Design Phase »

How Do I Find and Choose a Designer?

You can start with the Professional Locator. It's a state-by-state listing of independent kitchen and bath design firms. You can visit the websites of firms near you to find out more about their services. Other good options include contacting the National Kitchen and Bath Association for a list of designers in your area or asking friends for recommendations. It may seem like a lot of effort, but when you consider the investment you're making, doing it right the first time is a priority.

To first meet with a designer, you can either schedule an appointment or just drop by a showroom. In your initial consultation, the designer will gauge how seriously you want a new kitchen and how interested you are in his or her firm. The designer will also want to get a sense of the scope of the project you have planned, what styles and products you prefer, and how much you want to spend.

Ultimately, it's a bit like dating: you and the designer must be a good fit. If you don't trust the person you would be working with or if you feel the designer is condescending or doesn't share your vision, look somewhere else. In addition, not every designer wants to take on every project; if you're just looking for a countertop or flooring, for example, the designer probably will refer you to a specialty showroom or contractor.

The designer will ask some or all of the following questions:

  • Where did you hear about us? Have you looked anywhere else?

  • Have you designed/built/remodeled a kitchen before?

  • Is your new kitchen part of a new construction project or is it a remodeling job?

  • What does your kitchen look like now? What do you like and dislike about it?

  • Do you have a sketched layout with measurements or an architectural blueprint of your existing or planned kitchen?

  • What space and amenities do you need/want that you don't currently have?

  • What general style do you like-contemporary, traditional, or eclectic? What is the style of your home?

  • What are some of the styles and products that you like, either in the showroom or that you've seen on the Internet, in publications, or elsewhere?

  • Do you have an idea of how much you want to spend?

  • When do you want the new kitchen to be ready?

You should ask:

  • How long have you been in business?

  • What kind of training do your designers have?

  • What is your approach to the design process?

  • Can I see pictures of kitchens you have designed? Better yet, actual kitchens?

  • Can you provide me with references-names and contact information of prior clients?

  • Which manufacturers do you represent?

  • Can you do special orders? If you find a cabinet in a magazine or even another showroom that you have to have, would the firm be willing to work with you to coordinate that element with the others you select from its offerings?

  • Do you specialize in any particular style, product, or material?

  • How long is your project backlog-in other words, can we start working on my project now or will I have to get in line?

  • What are your payment options? Do you offer financing? What is the payment schedule you expect?




What Will a Designer Do For Me?

Working with a professional can take a lot of the uncertainty and stress out of the process of planning and building a new kitchen. Consider your designer a partner who can envision (and prepare for) possibilities that won't occur to you and manage the technical details. If the countless door style, finish, and hardware choices seem overwhelming, imagine how the load increases when you add measurements, ordering and installation into the picture.

There are thousands of kitchen design specialists available to help direct your planning process, make stylish, cost-effective decisions, and avoid pricey mistakes. Kitchen designers may operate from a showroom with multiple products and vignettes or have an office with a few samples and lots of catalogs. Some have focused exclusively on kitchens (probably baths, too) throughout their careers, while others have been trained more broadly as interior designers or project managers.

Some have also received the designation of Certified Kitchen Designer from the National Kitchen and Bath Association. While it's not mandatory for designing kitchens, the CKD designation requires the passing of a certification exam and a minimum of seven years full-time professional experience designing kitchens or a combination of education and experience.


Why should I work with a kitchen designer?

A designer takes the guesswork out of the design process without taking you out of the equation. The designer will keep you from getting bogged down in details that can throw your planning off track. You'll be free to dream, while the designer thinks through all the measurements, material coordination, and construction logistics.

When it comes to cabinetry, an incorrect measurement as nominal as 1/2" can cause major problems-and a major gap. A designer is not only trained to professionally execute the technical aspects, but has practical experience that may be outside your sphere-for instance, knowing that the walls in vintage homes are often slanted, a crucial detail if you want your cabinetry to lay flush to the wall.

You might want a food pantry, for example, but you can't quite figure out where it would fit so you decide to go without it. A designer, based on her experience with similar kitchens and her specialized training, might know exactly how to create a specialized cabinet, or might be aware of a manufacturer that fabricates extra narrow pullout models.


What process should I expect a designer to follow?

When you work with a kitchen designer, you don't have to give up control of your plans or turn all the remodeling work over to other craftsmen. Think of yourself as the movie producer and of the kitchen designer as the movie director. You can be intimately involved in every detail of the project and even do some of the hands-on work. But when you do need someone to handle logistics, whether it's ordering products or coordinating contractors' schedules, the designer can step in.


A designer will typically:

  • Visit your home to take measurements.

  • Create a design and draft perspectives, elevations, and a floor plan.

  • Develop a detailed budget and schedule.

  • Order products and materials.

  • Coordinate work with construction, painting, and other contractors.

  • Oversee the installation and placement of the cabinets and other design elements.


Be sure to clarify up front who will be responsible for the contractors. Some design firms will coordinate the contractors' work only after you have selected and come to separate agreements with each. The design firm may make recommendations for which contractors you should use, but it may not have its own employees who perform these jobs.




Making Room for Kids

Initial Budget: $38,000.


Final Cost: $42,000. The extra $4,000 stemmed from the client's decision to add to the project by replacing some windows and interior doors, adding lighting and having some work done in an adjacent half-bath.


Client's Goals:

  • Update the home's original 40-year-old kitchen

  • Improve efficiency of workspace

  • Remove soffits

  • Remove peninsula that divided room

  • Replace floor in kitchen and dining room

  • Incorporate desk

Designer's Solutions

  • Remove soffits to allow for cabinets of varied heights and more open space

  • Widen doorway into formal dining room and remove half-wall into family room

  • Install new lighting

  • Fashion two-level island with place for children on one side and cooking area on the other

  • Incorporate custom valences on island, desk, hutch and shelf above large windows

  • Set off apple green walls and deep red accents with light maple cabinets

Medallion Shaker-style maple cabinets with a natural stain. Accessories: Rollout shelves, trash pull-out, beadboard panels on hutch and island, lazy Susan, corbels, shelf valance, wine rack, plate rack, towel bar and plate shelves.

Range: Pro-style stainless steel slide-in Jenn-Air range with downdraft.

Countertops: Granite on the island's raised circular bartop; other countertops are Corian in Linen with a beveled edge.

Flooring: Pre-finished hardwood

Sink: Corian sink

Faucet: Moen pullout spray faucet

Lighting: Recessed lights, undercabinet lights

Windows: Andersen casement windows with Prairie-style grills




The Basics of the Design Process

Every designer works a bit differently, but here's the basic gist of what you can expect to take place when you design your new kitchen:

1. Make an appointment. Some designers prefer to make the first appointment at your home. Others feel that you're more likely to be serious about the project, not just looking for free advice, if you take the time to meet them at the showroom. Either way, if you want a chunk of someone's time, get on their calendar.

2. Before the meeting. Time is money, so most good designers are only going to give you an hour or two of free time at that first appointment. Make the most of it by doing some prep work. Here are some suggestions:

  • Using magazines and the Internet, gather pictures of kitchen styles and products that you like. These will help you and your designer create the room you envision.

  • Print out and complete our Design Questionnaire if the designer does not provide you with one. It asks questions about how you cook, eat and shop as well as what you like and don't like about your current kitchen. Your answers will point the designer in the right direction.

  • Get together with all the members of your family and ask them for their input. Kids count, too-this is an opportunity to make it easy for them to help cook and clean

  • Establish a budget range that works for your family. Remodeling a 200-square foot kitchen can cost $20,000 or $100,000, so don't just wait to see what the designer comes up with. When you know how much you want to invest, your designer can guide you toward products that will allow you to stay within budget.

  • If you are building a new home or have hired an architect as well as a designer, be sure to get a copy of the floor plan to bring to the meeting.

3. The first appointment. The first meeting typically serves as a getting-to-know-you session, and may or may not include a sales pitch. Good designers won't give you a hard sell; they'll want to hear about your needs, your wants and your budgetary and space constraints. This is your chance to ask questions about the company's services and products as well as its design (and installation or construction) process. Ask to see examples of the designer's work, and ask for references as well.

If this meeting takes place in your home, the designer will measure the kitchen's dimensions and possibly take some pictures, too. This helps them to a) document the space they're working with and b) remember how the kitchen relates to the surrounding rooms.

If the meeting takes place at the designer's showroom, think about measuring your kitchen ahead of time and bringing along the dimensions as well as some pictures.

At this point, the designer should have the necessary information to come up with some rough concepts and a ballpark estimate. Some will start working on the spot, especially for small projects; most will prefer to meet again in about two weeks to present drawings and a price.

4. Initial design concepts. Preliminary designs could be drawn by hand or on a computer, and might include sketches of the proposed floor plan and elevations depicting cabinetry, counter and fixture placement. The estimate will reflect suggested product choices. Some designers will provide a budget range or multiple figures, and explain the impact different product options would have on the ultimate price.

5. Refining the design and estimate. Assuming you like the basic design and have a rapport with the designer, you'll probably be excited about discussing the possibilities for your kitchen: "What if you did an island instead of a peninsula?" or "Can we try a different door style?" At this point, most designers will ask for a design retainer or design fee before continuing to work on your project. They don't want to spend hours of time with customers who are just "kicking tires" and looking for free advice. You don't own the initial design, and the drawings aren't complete enough to be built from, either.

Once you pay the design fee, the designer will work with you to modify the floor plan and elevations to perfection and spec out products down to the last detail, including tile pattern and faucet finish. This process, of course, will modify the cost of the project. Your designer should be able to steer you toward products and design solutions that will help you stay within budget, though this may require compromise on your part.

How long does this part take? Depends on how good you are at making decisions.

6. Signing the contract. Once the design is perfected and you're ready for your new kitchen to take shape, you need to sign the contract, which should include the final estimate and payment schedule. At most companies, the design fee you paid earlier will now be credited toward the cost of your project.

Some designers simply provide design services and cabinetry, and the contract's scope of work will reflect that. Others also offer some combination of additional products, installation services and project management. A true full-service or design-build firm will take care of all the demolition, construction and management, from scheduling to purchasing products.



More in this category:« What They Charge

See Designer and Contractor Work For Yourself

Checking contractor references over the phone is easy enough, but getting an up-close look at completed remodeling jobs can be a challenge. No matter how pleased with the work, most homeowners don't extend a standing invitation for strangers to come by and see it.

Fortunately, some are willing to offer a weekend invitation. Though not as common as tours of new homes, scattered-site remodel tours open to the public are becoming more popular. Held during spring, summer and fall, the remodel tours last from one to three days and showcase from four to more than 90 projects. Tickets typically cost about $10 or $15; part of the proceeds sometimes goes to charity.

Keep in mind that most of the featured projects will be expensive, high-end remodels. If all you need is a new sink, this is not the way to find a contractor.

Tips Before the Tour
In addition to a list of addresses, the more established tours offer descriptions and/or pictures of each project to help you decide which ones to visit.

  • If no map is provided, take the time to map out the sites before leaving home.

  • No eating, drinking or smoking will be allowed inside the homes. Leave pets behind, too.

  • Be prepared to take off your shoes or wear the provided disposable booties at each home.

  • If possible, find a sitter for the kids.. The homes may not be accessible to strollers or child-proofed.


Clues to Quality
If you're actively looking for a contractor, take some time to inspect the quality of the products and of the work. Don't let yourself be dazzled by all the new stuff: look for the details that can be easily overlooked at first glance but affect functionality and long-term satisfaction.

  • Sealing around windows, doors, counters and fixtures

  • Alignment of tile on backsplashes and floors

  • Location of countertop seams

  • Convenient outlet placement

  • Transitions between the kitchen and other rooms: treatment of walls, floors, ceilings

  • Plumb, square walls;  except in old homes, which may require a little fudging to cope with settling

Tour Listing

Though not comprehensive, our listing includes many of the most popular and longest-running remodeling tours from coast to coast.

San Diego

American Society of Interior Designers San Diego Home Remodel Tour

Des Moines
Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines Tour of Remodeled Homes

Fort Mitchell
Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky Tour of Remodeled Homes

Home Builders Association of Louisville Tour of Remodeled Homes

Ann Arbor

Washtenaw Country Home Builders Association of Washtenaw County Remodelers Home Tour

Minneapolis and St. Paul

Parade of Homes Remodelers Showcase

Rochester Area Builders Remodelers Home Tour

Kansas City

National Association of the Remodeling Industry Remodeled Homes Tour


Home Builders Association of Lincoln Tour of Remodeled Homes


Greater Greensboro Builders Association Tour of Remodeled Homes

Building Industry Association of Central Ohio Showcase of Remodeled Homes


Home Builders Association of Metro Portland Tour of Remodeled Homes


Master Builders Association Remodeled Kitchen & Bath Tour

Master Builders Association Remodeled Homes Tour

Master Builders Association of Pierce County Tour of Remodeled Homes

Building Industry Association of Clark County Remodeled Homes Tour

Milwaukee National Association of the Remodeling Industry Spring Home Improvement Showcase

Metropolitan Builders Association Fall Remodelers Tour



More in this category:« Working with Contractors

Replace Your Kitchen Faucet

jado saffron faucet
Photo courtesy of Jado

You don't have to replace the whole sink to give the kitchen cleanup station a fresh look. Try replacing just the faucet to enliven your clean-up area while boosting its cleaning power. A commercial-style faucet like this one from Jado can make prep work a breeze with its goose-neck stem that opens up space for rinsing veggies and filling deep pots. The hose on this pull-down faucet also helps with washing fussy pots and pans while its stainless steel coil protects the hose and is removable off for easy clean-up.

Things to Think About When Setting Your Budget

Tools on top of a schedule

  PDF Version

To help focus your selection process, ask yourself the following questions. You can print out the questionnaire and refer to it as you read through the site and while visiting a designer's showroom.


  1. What's the main reason I'm planning to invest in a new kitchen? Does my new kitchen represent an investment in the home I plan to stay in for a while, or am I just looking to spruce it up for resale?

  2. How much do I want to spend on my new kitchen?

  3. If I'm building a new home, how much can I spend on the kitchen? Is the price included in the total cost of the project? How much flexibility do I have with the kitchen's design and layout?

  4. How much do my favorite products and materials cost for my ideal kitchen?

  5. Does the cost of my ideal kitchen exceed my practical budget? What less expensive materials could I substitute for pricier options if I need to lower my costs?

  6. What time frame would I like to have my kitchen completed in? Do I have time to wait for pricier custom treatments or am I in a hurry?

  7. Have I set aside some cash as a cushion for unexpected costs?

  8. How much do I want to budget for new cabinets, which typically account for half the budget for a new kitchen?

  9. Do I plan to supply any of the materials or do any of the installation work myself?

  10. Do I plan to work with a designer?




Spending Time With Your Design

While it can be the most creative and exciting part of planning your kitchen, the design phase can also be the most stressful. Fortunately, careful consideration to your new kitchen's design will set the foundation for a great remodeling project. Before you go rushing into construction, take some time planning your design phase:


  • Consider what styles and items you want to include as well as how much you're willing to pay and how long you're willing to deal with the remodeling process

  • Find out what the process is for designing with a professional

  • Avoid the most common mistakes of kitchen remodeling

Continue to find out all you need to know to prepare yourself and your kitchen for a new design.



Goals and Costs of Your Remodel

A check book and pen lying on top of cash

Before looking at line items, determine how much to spend overall.

Your goals for the project will help determine your budget. You'll want to spend less, for example, if you're just refreshing your kitchen before selling your home. But if you want a dream kitchen in a house where you plan to live for a while, you'll want to invest more.

Many experts suggest that your kitchen should represent 10 to 20 percent of the fair-market value of your home. So if your home would sell for about $300,000, then spend between $30,000 and $60,000 on your kitchen improvements.

If you spend less than 10 percent, the kitchen may not meet potential buyers' expectations. If you spend more than 20 percent, you're less likely to make your money back at resale.




More in this category:Financing Options »